Friday, October 2, 2009

The Battle over the Internet and the Right to Free Speech

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The Assault on Free Speech Reaches
The Electronic Frontier of America



Is it paranoia to wonder if there is a coordinated effort at reigning in Free Speech?

In the last thirty days, the forces that assault the right to free speech have been attacking their target from multiple positions--most of them from inside the Obama administration.

No one--well, almost no one--has come out and said "Free speech is bad for you". At least in as many words. The government just wants to "regulate" it.


Make no mistake: free speech has been getting pummeled from a variety of government spokespeople. What's disturbing is that some of these people have the power to put action behind their words.

While individual stories have been duly noted in the press, has there been any reports on why so many attacks have taken place in such a short period of time?

What's happened in the last month? Let's take a look at a few of the stories that should cause concern:

  1. FCC Chairman targets the Internet
  2. Federal Trade Commission Trains His Focus on Bloggers
  3. America Cedes Control of the Internet
  4. Hate Crimes Bill goes after "hate speech"
  5. FCC 'Diversity Czar' Praises Chavez Media Crackdown
  6. Regulatory Czar, Cass Susstein, Publishes "Rumors" booklet
  7. US co-sponsors New Improved "Free Speech" resolution with Egypt
  8. Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV) sponsors S. 778 which Creates "Internet Czar"

That seems enough for right now. This article won't address them all, but will take a look at several of them.

The  Internet  Cops are Coming


The FCC seems to be pushing ahead on several fronts in the assault on free speech. One way--some would argue a backdoor method--is to regulate those companies that provide internet connections.

So, the new FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, announces that he wants to regulate the Internet. Government regulating one of the last frontiers of free speech--what could go wrong?

From New FCC Chairman Targets internet:

Tim Andrews, at Americans for Tax Reform, relates a disturbing bit of news.

Only a week after President Obama’s newly-appointed FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, announced his plans for government regulation of the internet, a study by the network planning consultancy AIRCOM International revealed the cost of an upgrade to LTE (or 4G) telecommunication technology could be as much as $1.78 billion for a tier one US operator in the first year. When implemented, this technology will significant increase broadband speeds for consumers, and allow for significant improvements in speed and quality.
--Tim Andrews,
Administration Plans To Stifle 4G Broadband
(h/t Instapundit)

For the technology-challenged, what's this all mean? Andrews continues:
Unfortunately, if Genachowski gets his way and is allowed to begin regulating the internet, and micro-managing telecommunication operators, network operators won’t be able to turn a profit from their investments in infrastructure because they can’t manage their own networks. So they just won’t build the infrastructure. And Americans will miss out on the quality services they would have received had the government not intervened.

Tim Andrews concludes: "The free market has allowed the internet to flourish and proper for the last 20 years. It is sheer folly now to crush it under the cold dead hand of government."

NOTE: Between the time we wrote this article and its publication, Glenn Beck (love him, hate him, but listen to the information and then do some research) did the following 6 minute segment on his Wednesday TV show. h/t Lori Smith, Freedom's Phoenix; IS MARXIST-LED ‘FREE PRESS’ GROUP SHAPING OBAMA POLICIES?

One way to dress up an assault on free speech is to frame the regulations as a battle against "big business". A famous example: the oil companies in the mid-1970s were portrayed as "evil" and a "Windfall Profits Tax" was imposed. The result of taxing productive companies because they're productive?

High prices and long lines for gasoline.

When Internet service deteriorates due to decreased investment, the usual suspects will claim that it wasn't government intervention that was the culprit and will call for more government intervention to fix it.

At any step of the way, Internet providers can be forced to patrol for "hate speech", "rumors", "racist speech" and "irresponsible speech". The problem?

Who's doing the labeling of what constitutes "evil" speech. Will it be the same people who called the August tea party protesters "racists" be in charge of that--like they are now?

A random look at some of these free speech assaults that have taken place in the last several weeks.

FTC trains government focus on … bloggers
Where does the FTC’s jurisdiction end? If I get a free tube of toothpaste in the mail and say nice things about it on Twitter, Facebook, or in a PTA meeting, do I have to disclose it as a freebie or pay the $11,000 fine the FTC imposes? What kind of disclosure can one fit into a 140-character Twitter message, anyway?

This is another in a line of paternalistic decisions on consumer product issues from the federal bureaucracy. It treats blog readers like idiots who are in constant danger of brainwashing by bloggers. American consumers are much brighter than the FTC assumes, but treating us like adults would not give them leverage to increase their power and their intrusiveness.

If the FTC has the time to chase down bloggers who do product reviews, then they must not have much to do. These new rules insinuate themselves into regulating free speech, and worse, they give no clear guidelines on the scope of the enforcement or the methods of disclosing properly to avoid the FTC’s wrath. They aim a bazooka at a gnat in terms of public danger to consumers and threaten to squelch the online discussion of product virtues and failings, which can help inform people in their choices.

Ceding the Internet

Last week, President Obama proudly announced at the United Nations the steps taken by his administration to “embrace a new era of engagement” in international affairs. These actions included supporting the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, addressing global warming through the U.N., joining the Human Rights Council, signing the Disabilities Convention, supporting the Millennium Development Goals, and paying America’s arrears to the United Nations without asking the organization to implement reforms to prevent those payments from being misused.

Well, we can add another dubious decision to the list of sacrifices the Obama administration has made to alter of international engagement. Today it was announced that the administration has agreed to cede much U.S. control over the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which regulates and manages the Domain Name System under which Internet Protocol addresses and registration of top-level domains (such as .org and .com) are assigned.


Czar seeks 'chilling effect' on internet

If Czar Sunstein is able to enact the "chilling effect" that he proposes in Rumors by the next general election, websites like the American Thinker could become regular targets of retraction demands from the Left, and face the threat of fines for spreading what the Regulatory Czar defines as "rumors."


New FCC Chairman Targets internet

New Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski could have used a few more dollops of genuine humility in his Monday speech advocating enforceable "network neutrality" rules for the Internet. Despite declaring "we cannot know what tomorrow holds on the Internet," he showed he intends to lead the FCC as if it were all-knowing. That will only end up choking the greatest engine of innovation in modern times.
Genachowski laid out his plans in a highly anticipated speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. The mostly voluntary concept of net neutrality -- which encourages the free flow of content across the Internet -- would be transformed into formal rules Internet service providers (ISPs) would violate at their peril....

Genachowski is attempting to solve a problem that doesn't exist, which he plainly admitted by stating his goal is to "preserve" the freedom and openness of today's Internet.


The new chairman said, "this is not about government regulation of the Internet," and he did it with a straight face. But this is all about government regulation of the Internet, coming from an agency with a proven record of regulatory failure and abuse of power.

Americans should have little faith in Genachowski's pledge the FCC "will do as much as we need to do, and no more" when regulating the Internet. When you don't "know what tomorrow holds on the Internet," how can you be sure the regulatory lines will be drawn so perfectly?

Answer: You can't. But it's clear what awaits us if the FCC moves forward with the chairman's plans: less freedom, less investment, less innovation.


Potential FTC Fines Raise Big Blogging Questions

The reasoning behind the guidelines seems noble enough - provide transparency and keep consumers safe from hokey information. However, the concept of the government dictating how this happens does not sit well with a lot of people. The revisions (which can be found in this 81 page document [pdf], should you care to peruse them [they start around page 55]) have ruffled quite a few feathers and the conversation has become one about free speech.

Jeff JarvisWell-known author/editor/publisher Jeff Jarvis makes a really good point. He says the FTC assumes that the Internet is a medium. "It’s not. It’s a place where people talk. Most people who blog, as Pew found in a survey a few years ago, don’t think they are doing anything remotely connected to journalism. I imagine that virtually no one on Facebook thinks they’re making media. They’re connecting. They’re talking," he says. "So for the FTC to go after bloggers and social media – as they explicitly do – is the same as sending a government goon into Denny’s to listen to the conversations in the corner booth and demand that you disclose that your Uncle Vinnie owns the pizzeria whose product you just endorsed."


Obama's FTC Moves to Regulate Bloggers

The Federal Trade Commission on Monday took steps to make product information and online reviews more accurate for consumers, regulating blogging for the first time and mandating that testimonials reflect typical results.

The FTC will require that writers on the Web clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products. The commission also said advertisers featuring testimonials that claim dramatic results cannot hide behind disclaimers that the results aren't typical.

The FTC said its commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the final guidelines, which had been expected. The guides are not binding law, but rather interpretations of law that hope to help advertisers comply with regulations. Violating the rules, which take effect Dec. 1, could result in various sanctions including a lawsuit.


You Can't Say That

The Obama administration has marked its first foray into the UN human rights establishment by backing calls for limits on freedom of expression. The newly-minted American policy was rolled out at the latest session of the UN Human Rights Council, which ended in Geneva on Friday. American diplomats were there for the first time as full Council members and intent on making friends.

President Obama chose to join the Council despite the fact that the Organization of the Islamic Conference holds the balance of power and human rights abusers are among its lead actors, including China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia. Islamic states quickly interpreted the president's penchant for "engagement" as meaning fundamental rights were now up for grabs. Few would have predicted, however, that the shift would begin with America's most treasured freedom.

For more than a decade, a UN resolution on the freedom of expression was shepherded through the Council, and the now defunct Commission on Human Rights which it replaced, by Canada. Over the years, Canada tried mightily to garner consensus on certain minimum standards, but the "reformed" Council changed the distribution of seats on the UN's lead human rights body. In 2008, against the backdrop of the publication of images of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, Cuba and various Islamic countries destroyed the consensus and rammed through an amendment which introduced a limit on any speech they claimed was an "abuse . . . [that] constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination."


The new resolution, championed by the Obama administration, has a number of disturbing elements. It emphasizes that "the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities . . ." which include taking action against anything meeting the description of "negative racial and religious stereotyping." It also purports to "recognize . . . the moral and social responsibilities of the media" and supports "the media's elaboration of voluntary codes of professional ethical conduct" in relation to "combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance."


From Bill would give president emergency control of Internet

Internet companies and civil liberties groups were alarmed this spring when a U.S. Senate bill proposed handing the White House the power to disconnect private-sector computers from the Internet.

They're not much happier about a revised version that aides to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, have spent months drafting behind closed doors. CNET News has obtained a copy of the 55-page draft of S.773 (excerpt), which still appears to permit the president to seize temporary control of private-sector networks during a so-called cybersecurity emergency.

National Cyber Insecurity Awareness Month

This bill is sponsored by Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV)

S. 778.(National Cybersecurity Advisor Act of 2009)- A bill to establish, within the Executive Office of the President, the Office of National Cybersecurity Advisor.

That’s the bill to permanently establish the Cyber Czar.


Regulation of "rumors".

Regulation--and fines--on speech codes not followed.

Admiration expressed by a White House appointee for Chavez's crackdown on Venezuela's media.

During the Bush Administration, DBKP wrote about the dangers of regulating free speech.
{Snitches: Bills in Congress Would Turn Ebay, Websites into E-Snitches and
Senate Bill 1959 and Unintended Consequences: Needed Terror Tool or Thought Crime Prevention Act?]

The pace is accelerating under the Obama administration.

This is an issue of constitutional freedoms.

This issue is neither a left or right, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or Independent issue, Liberal or Conservative.

Conservatives on the right, moderates in the middle, and liberals on the Left--as well as civil libertarians--need to start contacting your congressional members and Senators.

Find out where they stand. DEMAND that they vote to keep speech free and unencumbered.

There are a lot of issues to address here. Pick one, pick two or pick 'em all.

If you have a blog, pick one and write about it.

Not to be dramatic: but do it now.


Visit now and save yourself some time later.

You'll be glad later that you wrote your congressman/senator sooner.

by Mondo Frazier
* DBKP file

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